The Clubman: A bigger MINI
As car reviewers, we've always relished our week-long sojourns with MINI Cooper models – fun, diminutive, retro-style cars based on a long-ago British subcompact line and built in the United Kingdom by BMW. But the thought of actually buying one never really occurred to us. The first MINI Coopers were not particularly functional, and their low-slung design made entry and egress a challenge. Then, along came the Clubman.
The biggest of the MINIs, the 4-door Clubman hatchback can seat four adults – five in a pinch, and we do mean pinch – and transport 47.9 cubic feet of cargo when the rear seat is lowered. It rides comfortably and fairly quietly, and it's easier to enter and exit than the conventional 2-door MINI Cooper.
The MINI Cooper's friendlier critics have compared its handling qualities favorably with those of a go-kart, and commonly note that it drives as if it were on rails. We wouldn't go quite that far with the Clubman; its longer, taller, heavier body suppresses its reflexes somewhat. But compared with mainstream compact hatchbacks from Japan, Korea and the United States, it's a whole 'nother driving experience nonetheless.
Yes, it costs more than those mainstream compacts. Our Clubman had a base price of $24,100 and options brought the sticker price to $30,750. But, as they say, you get what you pay for. The Clubman's interior appointments are of the highest quality, and this car has a refined yet sporty personality that's hard to measure in dollars and cents.
The base Clubman comes with a 3-cylinder turbocharged engine, mated to a slick-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox. This package delivers a satisfactory 35 mpg on the highway, but MINI's insistence that drivers fill up with premium gasoline raises the fuel cost by 15 percent or more, compared with compacts that happily sip regular unleaded.
For those who want more performance than MINI's three-banger can provide, the Clubman S comes with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 189 horsepower. From a dead stop, this model reaches 60 mph two seconds quicker than the base Clubman.
The Clubman's standard-equipment list is fairly spartan: automatic climate control, ambient lighting, MINI Connected XL telematics and imitation leather upholstery. Options included a Sport Package (17-inch wheels, sport seats, dynamic damper control for the suspension, and LED headlights), $2,000; Technology Package (rear-view camera and park distance control), $1,750; heated front seats, $500; British Racing Green metallic paint, $500; cloth/leatherette black pearl seat material, $750; and satellite radio with one-year subscription, $300. The telematics system is displayed on a round, dinner-plate-sized screen in the middle of the dash, where the speedometer can be found in some MINI Coopers.
For New England drivers, the Clubman has strong appeal but for one shortfall: It isn't available with all-wheel drive. (This feature is offered on a few MINI models, including the Countryman, a crossover wagon with somewhat less cargo room than the Clubman.) But credible reports indicate an all-wheel-drive Clubman is in the works.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Mini Cooper Clubman
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline Three, 134 horsepower, 162 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,015 lb.
Wheels: 17x7.5-in. alloy
Tires: 225/45R17 run-flat performance
Suspension: 4-wheel independent
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 17.5 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 47.9 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline